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May 26, 2022

Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals decides court martialed prisoner cannot seek compassionate release in military courts

A helpful reader altered me to an interesting ruling this week from the US Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals in In re Kawai, Misc. Dkt. No. 2022-02 (AFCCA May 25, 2022) (available here). Here is how the opinion gets started:

On 29 January 2022, Petitioner requested this court grant him extraordinary relief in what he styled as a “Motion for Compassionate Release and Reduction in Sentence,” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), and the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018).  This court received, by mail, Petitioner’s request on 2 March 2022, and docketed his petition on 11 March 2022; the Court did not order briefs by the Government or Petitioner in response.  We conclude we do not have jurisdiction to adjudicate Petitioner’s request and deny the petition.

Here is a key portion of the ruling:

The problem for Petitioner is the review of a motion for compassionate release is jurisdictional. “A motion to file for compassionate release can only be brought before the sentencing judge.” Ferguson v. United States, No. 1:22-cv10542, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50986, at *2 (E.D. Mich. 21 Mar. 2022).  Yet, “[g]eneral courts-martial are ad hoc proceedings which dissolve after the purpose for which they were convened has been resolved.” Witham v. United States, 355 F.3d. 501, 505 (6th Cir. 2004).  Because Petitioner’s court was dissolved after his case, and because his case is final under Article 76, UCMJ, there is no sentencing court within the military service courts in which Petitioner may bring a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).

However, Congress has charged federal district courts with exercising jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitioners who are imprisoned as a result of court-martial convictions. See Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137, 139 (1953); Chapman, 75 M.J. at 601; see also Gilliam v. Bureau of Prisons, No. 99-1222, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 3684, at *3 (8th Cir. 10 Mar. 2000) (unpub. op.).  Federal district court is also the proper venue for Petitioner’s motion. See Owens, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61460, at *2.

May 26, 2022 at 06:33 PM | Permalink



I see the dicta paragraph at the end of the decision. Is the military court trying to indicate their belief that a motion to reduce sentence under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A) would be properly brought before a federal district court?

It is clearly not habeas, despite their claim it is analogous. The relief sought is plainly different and the remedy is purely statutory.

What say you about the same scenario being filed in a district court in the district of confinement? Jurisdiction? Yea or nay?

Posted by: Zachary Newland | May 31, 2022 11:43:29 AM

Zachary, because in this case the federal prisoner has parole eligibility, I do not think he readily fits into the (parole-free) regime that Congress created with the SRA that included this sentence reduction mechanism. Given that there is already another form of sentence reconsideration, I would be disinclined to read either the text or context of 3582(c)(1)(A) to be available. That said, I tend to favor broad views of district court authority under federal "habeas" in the form of 2255 motions, so I might want any such action informed by 3582/3553 considerations in order to effectuate congressional interests.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 1, 2022 8:37:15 AM

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